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Intermittent fasting explained (And 5 tips on how to get started)

Updated: Feb 1

It is of all times that people are bombarded with health hypes and dietary trends. Especially for women, it can feel like we need to do it all to call ourselves truly healthy people.


Unfortunately, individual differences are way too often forgotten when one woman recommends something to another. Because what works for woman X, won’t do the trick for woman Y. And when you can only depend on someone else’s experiences, it becomes really difficult to determine if you should try the same thing too.


This article is all about one of the most common health hype and dietary lifestyles: intermittent fasting (IF). With intermittent fasting, you alternate between a predefined period of fasting (not eating/drinking any calories) and eating over the course of 24 hours.


This blog post is meant to give you the information and the steps you need to give intermittent fasting a try. And it won’t mean you will go from “zero” to extreme fasting in one step.

 

The most commonly reported health benefits


Please note that the physiological effects of intermittent fasting are described in a very small nutshell. All of the mechanisms that will be mentioned are extremely complex and are still subject to extensive scientific research.


Insulin sensitivity

(source, source, source, source)


This mechanism can go into overdrive due to a diet that is rich in refined sugar, processed food and/or due to a high frequency of eating moments. The blood sugar level remains high and insulin-dependent cells grow less sensitive. (source, source)


Scientific research has proven that intermittent fasting has a beneficial effect on the glucose regulation mechanism and could increase insulin sensitivity, which you might experience as follows:

  1. More energy, feeling more vitalized

  2. No more/ less intense cravings for sugary and salty things

  3. Decreased hunger and/or thirst (and possible weight loss as a consequence)


Fat burning

(source, source, source, source)


When the body is not fasting - and there’s enough glucose coming in through food - it “selects” glucose as the main fuel source. Glucose is mostly absorbed by muscle tissue and adipose tissue (“fat tissue”).


When the available glucose is low in the fasted state, the body selects fat cells instead as the alternative energy source. The process of the release of fat cells and use them is what we could call “burning fat”.


What intermittent fasting means is that the fasting window is bigger than the eating window. And the body in the fasted state chooses fat for fuel. In short: you start to spend more time burning fat.


Image by Simone Meij

Stress reduction


The human body is constantly busy dealing with stressors before they could cause serious damage. Luckily, our body can remember reoccurring stressors to react most efficiently the next time around. This is called the adaptive stress response. (source)


IF can also be seen as a reoccurring stressor because of the alternating fasting (stress) and eating (no stress) periods. After a while, the body becomes familiar with this process and will develop an adaptive stress response for every next fasting window.


And research has found that improving the adaptive stress response through IF also helps the body respond to other types of stressors (source, source, source), possibly resulting in:


  • Your immune system’s reaction to physiological stressors improves, decreasing the risk of disease and inflammation.

  • Your emotional reaction to stress changes, making you better equipped to deal with anxiety, fear or even depression.


Gut health and the circadian rhythm

(source, source, source, source, source)


The gut’s microbiome, trillions of bacteria and microbes, is essential for our metabolic health and the functioning of the immune system. The microbiome’s diversity - mostly controlled by our diet - must be in balance to keep the gut healthy.


The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle we go through every day and that is divided into a sleeping phase and an alert/awake phase. And our gut activity and the circadian rhythm are tightly connected.


Scientific research has proven that IF could help synchronize your eating pattern with the circadian rhythm.


  • It helps limit any late-night eating when your gut is supposed to rest

  • It helps concentrate all eating moments within the timeframe that the gut is at full speed.


This keeps the gut microbiome’s optimal diversity in place and your gut as healthy as possible.


 

5 easy steps to intermittent fasting


1. A healthy diet is always the first step.

  • In combination with a healthy, balanced diet, IF has the most effect.

  • Take a close look at your diet first before considering IF.


2. Explore your options and take your pick. Start light!

  • Start with a minimum of 13 hours that you add to the last moment you’ve had a meal

  • You can build up from 13 hours to 14, 15, 16 or tune back down. Customize until you find what works best for you.


3. Make it as easy as possible for yourself.

  • Use an app like “Zero” to time your fasts, to save yourself any unnecessary effort.

  • Have nutritious and filling meals. Make sure your dinner fills you up until your next eating moment.


4. Stay on top of your mood and physical wellbeing.

  • Your body needs the time to adapt to a new rhythm. Be patient and don’t let any initial hunger make you stop after trying it for a couple of days.

  • Don’t feel like you need to push yourself too far. It is not worth it to keep going even though your mental and/or physical state keeps getting worse.


5. Be kind to yourself.

  • Don’t let IF turn into a restriction to your life and your happiness. IF is meant to give you more energy, to make your body feel good, not make you feel worse.

  • It’s OK to sometimes skip a fast, or take a break from it for a while. Let the kind voice in your head tell you that listening to your body is your top priority.


Are you completely new to intermittent fasting and need some help to get going? Use this simple guide as your kick start!



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